Call this the next tier up in the rumor chain, which starts at mere speculation on a fit, follows at some level of actual interest, and then you reach explorations and conversations between teams. From there, it’s exchanging names and offers, and – in the rare instance that a trade actually comes together – then, boom, a trade.
We know that there is an obvious fit between the Cubs and Nationals on a Kris Bryant trade, and we know that there was interest last year that probably carried over to this year. Now we’ve got a report that implies conversations, and an entire write-up at the Washington Post about Bryant’s fit with the Nationals.
“As a result, the Nationals are again exploring a trade with the Chicago Cubs for Bryant, according to two people with knowledge of their plans. The interest, first reported by MLB Network, indicates Washington could use third base to address a larger need for a middle-of-the-order bat …. [T]he 2020 season, despite being only 60 games long, made it clear that the offense needs more. That’s where Bryant makes a lot of sense.
For starters, he is a former MVP entering his final season with a club that could lose him in free agency next winter and get nothing in return. For the Nationals specifically, Bryant played under Dave Martinez when he was bench coach for the Cubs; Bryant could shift to a corner outfield spot if the Nationals want to give Kieboom another shot at third; and getting Bryant now, for less than it would have taken in 2019, would still give them almost a year of being the only team that can negotiate a long-term deal with him. Bryant is a right-handed hitter who profiles well in front of or behind the left-handed Juan Soto. And, maybe most importantly, he would make Washington markedly better in the last guaranteed season of having Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin atop the rotation.”
Although the Nationals could add offense in other ways, Dougherty suggests that a one-year guy like Bryant is a much better fit, all things considered.
Dougherty explains that, last year, the Nationals kept Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, and top Nats prospect Jackson Rutledge off the table in trade talks (to the first two, I say … uh, yeah, obviously), and there’s an implication that none would be available this year, either. More than fair on Soto and Turner, and maybe on Rutledge, too, though we’ve discussed why it’s possible that Robles’ star has fallen significantly.
Similarly, while Dougherty doesn’t include Carter Kieboom in that group, the article’s implication throughout is that Bryant would be added to the mix with Kieboom in mind, and that Kieboom, therefore, would not be involved in the trade. As with Robles, I can see why a post-hype type like Kieboom makes a lot of sense for the Cubs, but obviously that has never meant it would be a given that the Nationals would be ready to give up.
Instead, Dougherty appears to be envisioning a pitching prospect package for Bryant, given that the Nationals’ farm system is lower-tier, but is loaded with pitching prospects (indeed, the entirety of the Nationals’ top 10 prospects at MLB Pipeline are pitchers, most very low-level). The idea there is that the Cubs will be desperate for pitching prospects, as they had been in recent years. For reasons that should be clear to Cubs fans who’ve followed the farm system development closely, I’m not so sure the Cubs are quite that hard up to add miscellaneous lower-level pitching prospects at this point.
That doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a compelling package, but the reality of Bryant’s trade value – one year at a salary price point probably not that far off from what he’d get for a year in free agency – is that a package of pitching prospects from a system like the Nationals is not going to be all that exciting. I’d much, much rather the Cubs took a swing on a positional guy they could give a change-of-scenery shot immediately at the big league level (hence Robles and Kieboom). But, hey, the Nationals might simply not be into that.
Which, by the way, is very interesting in how this article is framed. It reads like a sales pitch on why adding Bryant, specifically for lower-tier pitching prospects, is a good move for the Nationals right now (I’d agree – it’s a great idea for them!). That makes you wonder whether Dougherty heard of the talks and then did the extrapolating of his own, or whether, instead, he heard of the talks via Nationals sources who specifically steered him in this direction. And if that’s the case, is that steering because it is, in fact, the direction of the talks, or because the Nationals want that to be the direction of the talks?
The non-tender deadline on December 2 is going to serve as one check-in point on a trade like this, as I have no doubt the Cubs would prefer to deal Bryant – if it’s already a near lock that it’ll happen eventually – before that deadline. Stay tuned the next few days.